Opportunities and Volunteering
VCU Opportunities to Consider: AmeriCorps
Established in 1995, the Virginia Commonwealth University AmeriCorps Program has an educational focus with the goal of helping improve the literacy skills of local children and families. Reading by third grade has been identified by the Richmond community as a critical preventive strategy in addressing the health and safety needs of children in the metro area. VCU AmeriCorps members address this need by providing comprehensive reading support to elementary school students who are struggling academically. Members also enhance family literacy skills and parent involvement at partner schools by lending support to existing services as well as developing new programs to meet specific needs.
The AmeriCorps program, along with the VCU America Reads Program, form the core of a university-based effort to support literacy and educational achievement at the elementary school level — America Reads in the City of Richmond and Henrico County. The programs work to increase the availability of educational support services to ensure that every student in the Richmond region read well and independently by the end of their third-grade school year. This goal is accomplished though the provision of one-on-one and small group tutoring and mentoring services for children in first, second and third grades. Students selected for ARCH reading support typically test below grade level in reading and need a level of reading assistance that can be adequately provided by “non-professional” individuals with limited training in reading development and tutoring. Members are assigned to school sites in service teams under the guidance of an AmeriCorps program team leader, with each team providing support to their primary school site for the duration of the academic school year.
Members also assist their schools with other academic assistance and support activities specific to individual school needs. These activities provide program members with meaningful experiences and communicative exchange allowing for a variety of positive influences on children. These types of interaction also afford members opportunities to emphasize to students the importance of developing strong reading skills, good grades and general academic success.
Participation in VCU AmeriCorps provides program members with a variety of opportunities for professional and personal development, including strengthening their leadership skills, enhancing their ability to work within a team setting, and increasing their commitment to community and national service. Building upon their initial program orientation and training, AmeriCorps members participate in specialized monthly training sessions throughout the program year. AmeriCorps in-service workshops help members increase self-awareness through reflection of their experiences, while also helping them develop critical life skills necessary to compete and succeed as productive Americans. In-service topics include career goals and life after AmeriCorps, and recognizing personal skills, interests, and limitations. Additional self-development topics covered include personal wellness, multiculturalism, team work, public safety, and conflict resolution and communication skills.
Other member development strategies include providing members with alternative service opportunities beyond their in-school experiences offering the chance to explore other staff–approved service interests. These opportunities give members exposure to a wider range of community issues, which can then mobilize community change in a variety of settings while also promoting a greater sense of civic responsibility. By working hand-in-hand with community service and family support organizations, members strengthen and encourage grass-roots solutions to local problems and serve as models for improving the delivery of health and human services to children and families.
Members also participate in citizenship training workshops. These interactive learning experiences help to develop in members a significant interest and commitment to service that lasts beyond their service term with VCU AmeriCorps. Member surveys annually support this conclusion with at least 80 percent of members indicating that they plan to continue serving their communities after they complete their AmeriCorps service year(s).
Erin-Marie Burke Brown, M.P.A.
1103 West Marshall Street
P.O. Box 843034
Richmond, Virginia 23284-3034
Phone: (804) 827-1907
Fax: (804) 827-1920